I’ve unofficially started my Camp NaNoWriMo project, editing my upcoming supernatural short story Bedouin Boy.
Bedouin Boy is about a little boy named Jasem, who lives with his family tribe in a Bedouin camp in the Negev Desert, Israel in 1976. Jasem’s mother Maryam is a medicine woman/sorceress, and as Jasem grows up he begins to discover his own psychic and supernatural abilities, which lead him on an unexpected path seeking justice for the dead.
In this first part, Maryam is asked to use forbidden Arabic black magic by a prominent member of the tribe. Maryam is reluctant to dabble in black magic but eventually agrees, with devastating consequences.
I will be officially releasing this story on Halloween, but I have decided to share this story page by page as I work my way through editing. I hope you enjoy it, and feedback is most welcome!
Copyright © Kate Kelsen 2020. All Rights Reserved
The Negev Desert, Israel
Salim’s eyes and mouth were closed in death. The Sheikh had washed his son’s body three times over, starting with the upper right side, then the upper left side, lower right side, and ending with the lower left side. Three sheets were spread out and laid one upon the other, and then the body was placed on top of them. Salim’s left hand was placed on his chest, and his right hand was then placed on top of the left. The sheets were brought over Salim one at a time, first the right side, then the left, until they were all wrapped around the body. A rope was tied at the top of the head and another below the feet, and two more around the middle. The body was then laid in a long wicker basket lined with linen.
Salim’s family received friends and well-wishers who brought gifts and food. In a moment of quiet between visitors, the Sheikh and Sheikha sat together.
‘He was my favourite,’ said the Sheikh to his wife.
The Sheikha turned and looked at her husband; when she spoke it was with a lowered tone. She knew that what she was about to say next could cost her life.
‘There is a way,’ she whispered. ‘To bring him back.’
The Sheikh looked at his wife with sharp curiosity in his eyes.
‘Maryam could bring him back. I could go and talk to her.’
The Sheikh still said nothing, and his wife’s heart raced in her chest in morbid anticipation of his response. He looked back at Salim, and it was several moments before he spoke again.
‘It is forbidden…but he was my only son.’ He looked back at the Sheikha. ‘You must go and speak to Maryam. But no-one can see you. You must go after dark.’
Maryam sat cross-legged on a piece of carpet. She was draped in a dark-blue thobe decorated with colourful embroidered designs on the sleeves, seams and hems. She wore gold earrings, and a necklace made of coins and bells. Her hair was braided in thick plaits along her forehead, which showed from beneath the veil that covered her head. She looked out through the veil that concealed her face with piercing blue eyes lined with black kohl. Before her a young woman knelt, holding her crying baby on her lap. Maryam dipped her fingers into a bowl of pressed onion juice, and then stuck them into the infant’s mouth, rubbing them along the gums. Maryam nodded once, and the young mother stood to her feet, passing Omid as he stepped into the tent.
That evening, Maryam cooked goat and rice over an open fire. Charred pots and pans hung on wooden hangers and the roof of the tent was blackened by the soot from the fire pit. Omid sat on a carpet preparing sweet tea, and sitting in the corner, eight-year-old Jasem used a stick to draw squiggles and swirls in the dirt.
She looked up to see the Sheikha. In her state of mourning, she had stripped back her usual finery. She was not wearing any jewellery, and wore a plain black thobe. She stepped inside the tent and sat down on one of the flowery cushions at the soft table, and Maryam offered her the sweet tea and dates.
‘He was my husband’s favourite.’ The Sheikha looked at Maryam; when she spoke again, it was with a lowered tone. ‘You could bring him back.’
Maryam shook her head.
‘I won’t do that,’ she said. ‘I don’t do that.’
‘But you can do it.’
‘Even if I did bring him back, he wouldn’t be the same. He could come back wrong. Different and unnatural.’
‘I don’t care what he comes back as! As long as he comes back!’ The Sheikha paused,
composed herself. ‘Please do this, Maryam. Please.’
‘What about the Sheikh?’
‘He knows I’m here. But no-one else, I promise.’
Maryam sighed, looking at her husband. She took a long pause before she spoke
again. She looked back at The Sheikha, and could see tears glistening in her eyes.
‘I will need time to prepare.’
‘We don’t have much time,’ the Sheikha urged. ‘We have three days at the very
most before Salim must be buried.’
Maryam found the cave at dawn, in the crevice of the steep rocky hillside. She ventured inside, and through the shadows she spotted an old man sitting on a carpet making tea. He wore a kerchief, held in place on his head with a band of folded cloth, and a long sleeve coat over a long white gown.
‘What is it that you seek, sister?’ he said, his voice cracked with age.
‘A spell to resurrect the dead.’
The old man said nothing at first, and Maryam waited patiently for him to speak, her heart beating sharply with anxious anticipation. He pointed a knobbly finger to a collection of large clay jars in the corner of the cave.
‘Bring me the last one.’
Most of the jars were still intact, with their lids still in place. Maryam retrieved the correct jar and placed in in front of the man. He placed his hands on it, closing his eyes, lowering and shaking his head.
‘I never thought I would give this to anyone. Be warned. If you perform this spell
when you aren’t ready, or aren’t powerful enough, it will kill you.’
The desert wind was dry and hot, the heat of the sun so great it seemed to fade the blueness of the sky. Omid cast his gaze searchingly across his flock of sheep and goats; amidst the sea of straggly wool he laid his eyes upon one of his youngest charges. He approached the lamb and picked it up, cradling it in his arms as he started the journey back to the camp.
As dusk fell, members of the tribe lay carpets in the sand and drank tea and camels milk, where they would remain until late into the night. Maryam cooked the sacrificial lamb over the fire, and they ate it together. When Jasem was asleep, Maryam and Omid slipped away. The Sheikh was waiting for them at the entrance to his tent, keeping a watchful, cautious gaze as he let them inside.
Maryam spread an altar cloth out on the carpet, arranging a black candle in each corner and placing a small black urn in the centre. She untied the ropes that were wrapped around Salim’s body, and then using a small dagger, cut through the cloth. She moved Salim’s hands from his chest, resting his arms by his sides. She then removed the scroll from the clay jar and unfurled it.
‘syd albawwabat, klhm yerafun wayubduna. ha ‘ana eabdak almutawadiea. ‘asmae
salati. ‘aqbil eardiin almutawadie; fi almawt tueti alhaya.’
She picked up the urn, removing the lid and tipping it on an angle, pouring the dark red blood into the dirt above Salim’s head. The Sheikh and Sheikha jumped when thunder crashed and lightening flashed outside. Salim opened his eyes, their colour washed out by a cloudy grey. Maryam sat back.
‘Bless you, Maryam!’ cried the Sheikha from behind. ‘Bless you for bringing our son
back to us!’
In a split second, Salim lunged and grabbed Maryam by the throat with both hands. Omid grabbed the clay jar and smashed it over Salim’s head, and he fell back, grunting and groaning as his body convulsed. Maryam sat back, gasping for air.
‘This is what comes from dabbling,’ she breathed. She looked at the Sheikh and Sheikha. ‘I have to banish the demon. Force it back into the spirit world.’
Maryam lit two sticks of blue sage braided with wheat straw, waving them slowly over Salim’s body. She looked up at the Sheikh and Sheikha. ‘I’m ready to begin.’
With eyes wet with tears, the Sheikha stepped forward and knelt beside her son, looking tenderly down at him.
‘I love you, son,’ she whispered. ‘I’m so sorry.’
She stood back, and Maryam began to chant the incantation, her eyes firmly planted on Salim lying before her.
‘sawf tadamiruk alaliha. alalihat allaenat ealayk, walruwh alsharira.’
She repeated the chant over and over. Salim’s convulsions grew more violent, his grunts escalating to screams, yet Maryam persisted, her voice growing stronger with every repetition. The walls of the tent began to billow in a sudden, powerful wind.
‘Stop it! Stop it!’ the Sheikha shouted, waving her hands in panic. She crawled to her hands and knees beside Maryam. ‘Salim! Salim!’
Maryam continued to chant, her voice lowering to a whisper. Salim’s convulsing eased, and the Sheikha laid down within arm’s reach of him, whispering to him.
‘I love you, Salim,’ the Sheikha whimpered.
‘Let them take him,’ Maryam gently urged.
There was one last sharp convulsion, one last flash of lightning that lit up the night as bright as day, and Salim lay still again. Maryam and Omid looked upward, where a dark cloud circled above their heads. There was one last violent growl, before the demon dropped down and disappeared through the floor. The Sheikha collapsed in the dirt, sobbing over her son’s lifeless body.
The Sheikh and the other men of the tribe were tasked with taking Salim’s body for burial. Salim was placed into the grave on his right side, and three fist-sized spheres of hand packed soil were used as props, one under the head, one under the chin and one under the shoulder. Those present poured three handfuls each of soil into the grave.
‘We create you from it, and return you to it, and from it we will raise you a second time.’
The corpse was then buried by the grave diggers, who stamped and patted down the grave into shape as the collective of mourners said their prayers for the dead. The grave was marked with a single stone at the head of the plot.
Inside her tent, Maryam worked on the loom, a beam of wood set on the floor, weaving goat and camel hair into a rug. She looked up to see the Sheikh in the entrance. She did not wait to be acknowledged as she stepped inside. The heavy sadness behind her tears was gone, and her eyes were wild and fiery with rage.
‘Listen to me, Maryam,’ she said, her voice steady but quivering with fury. ‘Listen very carefully. You will leave this camp at once, do you understand? And you will never return.”
‘But, why?’ Maryam pleaded. ‘This is my home! All of my family are here!’
‘I am banishing you, that’s why!’ the Sheikha shouted. ‘You will leave before dawn,
do you hear? You will get out, if you want to keep your head!’
‘Alright,’ Maryam agreed. ‘Whatever you say. I will go.’
The Sheikha turned and left without another word.
Led by Omid, the dromedary camel trudged along, carrying Jasem, Maryam and all of their worldly possessions on its back. Braced in his mother’s arms, Jasem watched the world pass by. The crumbling limestone cliffs lined the north-western rim of the Dead Sea, and the mountainous landscape plummeted dramatically twelve hundred meters to the lowest point on earth.
They passed goat herders and other travellers on the way, and stopped by a river for a drink where Omid filled their water canister. Her feet dipped in the cool water; Maryam laid back on the ground behind her to rest.
The peaceful quietness of the desert dissipated as they approached the tiny Bedouin village tucked in the dip of two hills. There, tents were hoisted with chipped scrap-wood, and sand-covered corrugated-iron shacks were home to once-nomadic families expelled from the southern desert two decades earlier.
Omid erected their tent in the upper part of the village. Outside their new home was a small garden in the desert hills; there, a solitary pomegranate tree stood, bearing light pink fruit. Maryam pulled a piece of fruit from the tree, and proceeded to pull it into sections, passing them to Jasem.
‘We are settled now,” she said. ‘This is the best place for us.’
Jasem held tight to his mother’s hand as they made their way through the busy marketplace, where people were crammed in the streets with their goats and sheep, haggling with one another and sealing deals with a spit and a handshake. The explosion was sudden, hurling them several hundred feet in the air. For a few seconds after, there was complete silence, until the wretched screaming broke through the cloud of dust. But all Jasem could hear was the ringing in his ears. Pain seared through his body; he glanced down, and saw that his hands and arms were bright red with burns. On his leg was a wound the size of a pomegranate, with blood pouring out of it. Rubble was scattered amongst the bodies, and everyone and everything was covered in dust. Jasem looked to his mother, who lay still next to him.
‘Mama?’ he whimpered. ‘Mama! Help me! Please help!’
Standing with the doctor outside the hospital room, Omid looked through the glass window as a nurse attended to Jasem lying in the bed. Jasem’s torso and left shoulder were wrapped in bandages. His chin and jaw were being supported by a tubular elastic bandage.
‘He has second and third degree burns to seventy per cent of his body,’ the doctor was
saying. ‘We removed a piece of metal from his eye, and he will need surgery to remove shrapnel from his arm. He is lucky to be alive.’
The nurse approached the door and stepped outside the room.
‘He’s awake,’ she said.
Wearing a protective gown, Omid entered the room and approached Jasem’s bedside.
The entire left side of his face was burnt, and the hair from that side of his head was gone. His eyes were open, but he said nothing. Omid watched as a tear trickled down his son’s charred, cherry-red cheek, over the muscle tissue that showed through the skin.
Three Months Later
Wearing only his trousers, Jasem stood beside his bed as the nurse helped him pull on his jacket. His left arm was crumpled up into his body, perpetually curled against his chest. His cotton bandages had been replaced with sterile adhesive bandages, on his face, hand and the entire left side of his torso. The doctor was there too.
‘You’ll see the nurse tomorrow. In the meantime, these should help with the pain.’ He
gave a packet of pills to Omid, who was packing Jasem’s belongings into a bag from the table beside the bed.
Like Salim’s, Maryam’s grave had been marked with simplicity, with a stone sitting
at the head of the plot. Jasem and Omid took off their shoes and each placed a fresh palm frond down on the dirt. They then said a prayer for the dead, and then Jasem and Omid sat by the grave and ate fruit, giving a sweet treat to children that were playing in the cemetery.
Thank-you for reading this excerpt! Stay tuned for more…